I Dream of a World of Dreamers

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” -John Lennon.

I dream (figuratively) of a world that prioritizes the substance of dreamer’s visions. These dreams are not the backwash of our daily lives but rather a vision of our possible futures. I refuse to believe the materialist excuse, which dismisses dreams as a mess of neurotransmitter firings left amok in the absence of a conscious overseer. Mastery of dreams equates to mastery of the self.

The path of psychotherapy is deeply appealing to me. I find its progress greatly inspiring and wish the best for those who advance this science. However, with all the assertion of an undergraduate psychology student I feel that there are some structural flaws in its practice. Subjective analysis, an interpretative approach vulnerable to personal biases,  in psychotherapy is its downfall.

Why can’t we nail down the reactions of the unconscious the same way Pavlov could condition the salivation of a dog? It’s extremely difficult to study, sure. It’s made of a smorgasbord of influences from the environment and genetics and dietary influences, sure. It’s a big scary question mark that has brought many psychologists careers to a shrieking halt, sure. Why don’t we try anyway?

Allowing subjectivity to be a core tenant of your scientific theory is the equivalent to sending a man to the moon with no spacesuit. It will fail and when it does it will be a tragic loss.

I want a version of psychotherapy that focuses less on interpretation and more on causality. One that is purpose-driven in its goal to make dream analysis both a valid and reliable science. Why not experiment on the plasticity of the unconscious mind? Give me ten hours of hanging out in the New York subway system and see if I dream of large crowds and rats, I volunteer!

I just want to see people care about their dreams again. Too often I bring up the conversation only to be met with “I haven’t had a dream in years.” Oh but they have, every night they’ve fallen into REM sleep (unless there’s some sleep apnea going on) they’re dreaming so many utilizable things. It’s so very sad they don’t know it.

Dream on Little Dreamers,

EB

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Let’s start dark

Nightmares are, if nothing else, a great selling point for people to gain an interest in their subconscious. There’s something about waking up shaken and under rested after a nightmare that calls attention to the hidden musings of the id. Personally I think this a very healthy experience, and my assumption on the matter led me to make the statement “It began, as most metamorphosis do, with a nightmare.”

After doing some research, mostly skimming the abstracts of nightmare-related scholarly articles, I discovered that this notion is not necessarily shared by the scientific community. The first results I received oft cited the connection of nightmares as a possible indicator to disorders such as PTSD and schizofrenia (For example this article published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2010. http://www.aasmnet.org/Resources/bestpracticeguides/NightmareDisorder.pdf). This article offers the existence of “nightmare disorder” as a symptom and offers medication options for treatment. According to the article 80% of PTSD sufferers report nightmares related to their disorder. Nightmare disorder is said to affect 4% of the U.S. adult population and potentially cause sleep avoidance, deprivation and the exacerbation of underlying psychiatric distress and illness.

Is the nightmare itself a disorder? I would contend that the nightmare is less a disorder in and of itself as opposed to the projection of an underexposed psychological weakness. Whether this indicates a disorder or simply insomniac tendencies is something to be addressed on a case by case basis. I think the labeling of “nightmare disorder” deserves careful critique due to the risk of over diagnosis. 

Another study, More Than Just a Bad Dream by Frederik Joelving, proposes that nightmares may make the dreamer more susceptible to anxiety as opposed to acting as an “emotional release.” A major point of this article is that those who report troubled sleep fall prey to anxiety easier than even those who experience troubled real life events like the divorce of parents. Joelving cited an article about REM sleep deprivation by Tore Nielsen, director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at Sacred Heart Hospital in Montreal, as evidence of his point. In this study those deprived of REM interestingly showed better adaptation to negative-emotion inducing photos overnight, a point which Joelving expands upon to say that dream-states don’t necessarily make a person more resilient.

Were I able to read the full article I would feel more confident about my response to it, but here is my first impression. I appreciate the attempt to gather some hint at the association between nightmares and anxiety using meta-analysis but I feel the studies used don’t justify the topic of the paper. Joelving cautions at the lack of proof of a casual relationship between the two factors at the end but the overall message of no REM being better than REM with nightmares seems too dismissive to me.

What do you think about the role of nightmares? Purposefully jarring messages from a concerned id? Or anxiety-inducing affliction on a roaming mind?

Dream on little dreamers,
EB